Holidays, In-Laws & Boundaries

Holiday Expectations and Limiting Family Conflicts

Our first experience negotiating the holidays with family hit us squarely between the eyes a month after we were married. My family lives out of town and my husband’s lives in Chattanooga. Honestly, we didn’t have any discussions prior to getting married about how we were going to deal with the holidays. I think we thought things would just fall into place. Bad assumption! It’s great to be wanted and we wanted to be with everybody. But that just wasn’t possible.

By Julie Baumgardner, MS, CFLE

I know we are not alone because every year I hear stories from newlyweds and not-so-newly married couples who are struggling to please everybody through
the holidays. They end up exhausted, at odds with the ones they love, and desperate to figure out how to do things differently next year.

Don’t be caught off guard by your spouse or your family and their holiday expectations. Even though the process of making these decisions can sometimes feel pretty uncomfortable, the act of setting boundaries can actually be very liberating. The important thing to remember is to keep the communication lines clear and open. You can rest easy this holiday season knowing you and your spouse are on the same page.




Here are some suggestions to help you navigate this discussion with your parents and in-laws:

• Set a specific time to talk about how you want to spend the holidays. Remember that you are on the same team and your spouse is your first priority—not your family.

• As negotiations proceed, keep in mind that it isn’t your job to please everybody. You may make some decisions that disappoint one family or the other. That’s okay.  People will adjust.

• Before making any decisions, make sure all of your options are on the table. Be creative.

• Once the decision has been made, each spouse should call their family to pass along the information.  Be sure to say, “We have decided that…” instead of, “We can’t be with you Thanksgiving/Christmas day because he/she wants to be with his/her family.” That will do nothing but create problems for you.

• Avoid committing to any invitations before checking with your spouse, even if you are certain he/she will want to go.

• Be respectful of each other as you navigate this new territory.  Remember that you are on the same team.

• Entertain the idea of starting your own traditions and consider including the in-laws.

They say hindsight is 20/20. After 24 years of marriage, I can honestly say that setting these boundaries sooner rather than later would have eliminated a lot of angst, stress, and exhaustion in our home. Even though it feels hard, you have to remember that boundaries serve to protect. As a couple, your first priority is to keep your relationship healthy. This is not mean or selfish—it is part of learning how to do life together as a couple. It’s like forming a whole new civilization from two different tribes. This is a good thing. While this may be a stretch for many families, it is a healthy discussion for all couples, especially newlyweds. In general, people don’t like change. But who knows? You might stumble upon a whole new way to celebrate that everybody loves, all because you rocked the boat.

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